John Chrysostom would be quick to admit that our present situation in the world must be interpreted in light of God’s ultimate goal for the historical process. The present must be viewed through the prism of the end, and premature opinions as to the goodness of providence must be delayed until history itself reaches the conclusion God has set for it. Because only the end of history will finally clarify God’s actions in history, our present interpretive stance must be one of patience and humility. At present, we know only a little. Paul himself, Chrysostom reminds his reader, warned that “if anyone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). “He goes on to demonstrate,” Chrysostom comments, “that our present knowledge is reserved for the age to come. Only a very small amount has been given to us at the present time.”

Hence, during this present in-between time God’s providence will often remain “indescribable,” “ineffable, inexpressible, and incomprehensible.” Chrysostom teaches, however, that providence’s incomprehensibility does not cloud either its wonder or its promise for the future. God’s character and promises are the guarantee “that in every circumstance all things that come to us from him have a favorable outcome—provided that our activities don’t get in the way.” The prudent and wise course is to await the ultimate outcome of events. “Above all,” Chrysostom counsels, “one should not inquire too inquisitively, neither at the beginning of events nor at their conclusion. But if you are so curious and unduly inquisitive, wait for the final outcome and consider how things will turn out. Don’t be troubled or disturbed at the outset.”

Chrysostom’s view of the future, then, clearly informs and influences his attitude toward God’s providential actions in this present life, including God’s providence in the natural world. Chrysostom knows his readers are in danger of losing heart. The church has been scattered. Persecution is rampant. Families are breaking apart. Only a perspective that includes the future within its boundaries will be broad enough to encompass these trying times without breaking under their pressure. “The true life,” Chrysostom writes, “and the trustworthy and unchanging realities await us in the future. For the circumstances and events of the present life have the character of a journey, but the realities of the future await us in our true homeland.”

If this is indeed true, if the present life is a ‘journey,” if God’s goal for us teaches fulfillment in a life we have yet to experience fully, what are the lessons God is trying to teach us now? That is to say, the character of God’s providence and of our own experience, circumstances and natural environment will clarify as we recognize the character of our present time. For example, pilgrims on a journey will interpret the terrain— including key aspects of nature itself—differently from settlers who are attempting to construct a permanent residence. Attitudes toward trials, priorities, possessions, time and the natural world will all be affected accordingly.

How might God, for example, have structured the natural world to facilitate the journey of a pilgrim? If, as Chrysostom puts it, “the present life is a wrestling school, a gymnasium, a battle, a smelting furnace, and a dyer’s house of virtue, might not God have structured nature itself to aid in this process of shaping and forming Christian character? Next week we’ll explore what might characterize the natural world if it is created by God to be the arena for shaping human beings more fully into the image of Christ.